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by David Bowden
Approximately 25 local farmers, their families and other concerned citizens assembled at the Penobscot town hall on February 8 to participate in a public hearing and learn more about the proposed “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance of 2011.”
The ordinance centers around local farmers’ attempts to preserve their current farming rights and practices. According to the “purpose” as defined in the ordinance, people “have the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume locally grown foods.” This “promotes self-reliance, the preservation of family farms, and local food traditions.”
Further, the ordinance suggests that the town of Penobscot must have and retain its right to self-governance. It is implied that in this ordinance “future regulations (such as certain licensure requirements) would impede upon a farmer’s ability to sell directly to a consumer.”
The ordinance will appear on the warrant of Penobscot’s town meeting on March 8 and the public hearing was to inform residents. Discussion at the hearing was led by Heather Retberg (who, along with her husband, Phil, owns and operates Quill’s End Farm in Penobscot) and Deborah Evans of Bagaduce Farm in Brooksville. Both, along with a small group of farmers and others, have worked during the past year to draft the language of this proposed ordinance. If successful, say the authors, it may be a preemptive strike against anticipated changes in state and federal regulations that the group fears will threaten the operation and existence of small farms and community institutions, like grange suppers and bake sales.
Retberg read from a prepared statement, explaining the various parts of the proposal, and stressed that it is important for citizens to make informed decisions regarding the future of small farms in the area. She said “we [local farmers] need our town’s help to protect what we still have to ensure our current livelihood.”
Some audience members took turns voicing their opinions and concerns. There seemed to be unanimous support. Chairman of the selectmen Paul Bowen was in attendance and lent his support. He said it is important for people to come to the town meeting and vote.
After the meeting, Retberg emphasized that the ordinance is not just for farm goods, but for any food that is privately prepared and sold to the public.
District 38 state representative Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) has taken an interest in the local food ordinance and has been supportive. He has recently sponsored two bills in the state legislature that cover the issues that the proposed ordinance addresses. His first bill deals with the direct sale of raw milk to the public. His second bill would permit the sales of goods from a home kitchen directly to a customer.
In a telephone interview following the public hearing, Kumiega said “a local ordinance such as this is great and will help the passage of those bills.”
This issue in not unique to Penobscot, as townspeople from Blue Hill, Brooksville, and Sedgwick are currently holding similar discussions.